Choosing a Finish for Your Natural Stone Tile

Marble Floor Installation
This marble floor has a polished finish.

Are you considering natural stone for your new tile installation? It is a popular surface material for kitchen backsplashes, showers, floors, and more. Choosing the appropriate type of material for your needs is the first step, but you’ll also need to decide what type of finish your tile should have.

There are some important considerations to keep in mind when you select what level of reflectivity you want for your tile. From rough and non-reflective to smooth and highly reflective, the type of finish you choose can have a drastic impact on the look, feel, and function of your surfaces. For floors, the level of polish can make a difference when it comes to slip and fall concerns. This article explores the characteristics of the most common textured, honed, and polished stone surfaces.

Tastefully Textured

Natural stone with a texture has a more rustic or aged appearance than honed or polished varieties. The level of texture can vary widely, depending on the manufacturing technique. 

Here are some of the most popular: 

  • Cleft. The material is split along natural fissures with no manual or artificial treatment of the surface.
  • Bush hammered. A machine or masonry tool is used on the surface to create a uniformly pitted appearance.
  • Sandblasted. Abrasives, pressure, and back-and-forth movements are used to uniformly roughen the surface of the tile.
  • Leathered. Abrasive brushes are used to give the surface a leather-like appearance.
  • Flamed. The stone’s surface is heated with a flame to create a distinct, rough texture.
  • Sawn. The material is cut with a saw, and the rough, irregular surface is left as-is.
  • Tumbled/Aged. Mechanically aged surface that mimics naturel erosion is achieved by tumbling the tile in water and sand.

Note: Tumbled stone often has a textured surface, but after tumbling, the face of the tile may then be honed or polished so that only the edges retain a tumbled appearance. 


  • Slip resistance. Textured and naturally unfinished surfaces are slip resistant and can help conceal minor scratches and etching, which makes them a great choice for high-traffic wet areas like pool decks, sidewalks, and entryways. 
  • Less glare. If a certain area of your home has an overabundance of natural light, textured stone can help prevent uncomfortable glaring.
  • Hides signs of wear. Texture hides scratches, scuffs, and other minor signs of wear.


  • Harder to keep clean. Textured surfaces may have holes, nooks, crannies, and grooves that can trap contaminants and make cleaning difficult. 
  • Uncomfortable underfoot. Walking on a textured tile in bare feet can be unpleasant because of the roughness and friction. 

Soft and Lovely Honed

Like textured tile, a honed surface—also known as matte or satin—comes in varying grades of smoothness. Smoother and more reflective than textured tile but rougher and less reflective than polished tile, honed finishes are in the Goldilocks Zone, so to speak.


  • Slip resistance. Honed tile is a great option for a slip resistant floor in places like an entryway or a bathroom, while maintaining a beautiful, velvet-like aesthetic.
  • Less glare. Where lighting is concerned, honed tile can provide a scattered and gentle reflection without any uncomfortable glare.
  • Hides signs of wear. Honed surfaces can hide scratches, scuffs, and other minor signs of wear better than polished tile, although not as well as textured tile.
  • Comfortable underfoot. Textured and natural tiles can feel rough and full of friction, while a polished surface can feel cold and hard underfoot. Honed tile has a much softer feel than polished tile and feels smoother than textured tile, making it a good option for anywhere your bare feet step. Add some radiant heat under the tile, and you’ll be all set.
  • Great for pet owners. Your pet will feel more comfortable laying on a honed floor than a rough textured or cold polished one. A honed tile is more aesthetically forgiving than a polished one, so it can often conceal scuffs and scratches caused by pet nails. Unlike a ntextured surface, which can also hide scuffs and scratches, honed tile won’t trap dirt and contaminants.

Note: The smoother or more reflective a honed finish is, the less slip resistance it provides. 

Polished to Perfection

Offering the finest grade of smoothness and shine, polished finishes can be glossy and even mirror-like in appearance.


  • Breathtaking beauty. The greatest appeal of a polished floor or surface is its ability to showcase the vibrant colors and beautiful patterns of natural stone. 
  • One-of-a-kind. A pristine polished surface can reveal the inner crystalline structures and intricate veining, like an elegant work of art.


  • Less slip resistance. To avoid slip and fall accidents, avoid using polished tile in wet areas. Slip resistance treatments can be applied, but the level of reflectivity will be reduced, since the treatment etches the surface a bit.
  • More glare. Where lighting is abundant, polished tile can produce a harsh reflection that can cause an uncomfortable glare.
  • Shows signs of wear. Polished surfaces will easily show scratches, scuffs, and other minor signs of wear. It will need to be periodically refinished by a professional stone restoration contractor to maintain their pristine appearance.
  • Not as comfortable underfoot as honed tile. Polished tile can feel cold and hard underfoot. However, radiant heating under polished tile floors can make a big difference.
Travertine Tile Finish

If your choice of material has naturally occurring holes, pits, and voids, like travertine, the tile can be left as-is for an earthy, rustic appearance. For a higher degree of smoothness, a more uniform and modern appearance, and easier cleaning, the tile can be filled or floated, that is, the holes can be filled in with a special color-matched material.

Natural Stone Sealers

Many types of natural stone tile finishes can benefit from the application of a sealer. Sealers gives homeowners a little bit of extra time to clean up spills before they soak into the surface and become hard-to-remove stains. Some sealers penetrate the tile without impacting the appearance of the surface whatsoever, while other types of sealers can change the look of the finish. There are certain circumstances where an application of sealer would be inadvisable. Some highly polished types of stone will not even absorb a sealer. 

How the Level of Reflectivity Makes You Feel

As you consider natural stone tile finishes, be sure to keep in mind that they can impact the ambiance of your space. Each type has its own way of influencing the mood and style of the room. For example, a textured finish can work very well with nature-inspired design schemes. Honed tile can provide understated elegance to spaces where a cozy, relaxing atmosphere is desired. If your design tastes require a more pristine, glamorous aesthetic, then go for the timeless elegance of highly polished tile.

Ultimately, your choice of finish should align with your design preferences while also complimenting your lifestyle and practical needs.

Feel free to contact us with specific questions about natural stone tile finishes. And remember, the great thing about natural stone tiles is that if you find that your choice does not suit you after it has been installed, a skilled professional stone restoration contractor can change the finish of your tile to whatever type you want.

by Alice Dean

Copher Tile & Stone proudly stays up to date on tile installation with ongoing education with Mapei Technical Institute, Ardex Academy, the National Tile Contractors Association, Laticrete, and Schluter. Copher is a Certified Tile Installer (#1644).

Do you want a quote for tile installation? Contact us online or call 805-286-7460. We are San Luis Obispo County’s preferred tile installation company, serving Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Cayucos, Cambria, San Simeon, Santa Margarita, San Luis Obispo, Avila Beach, Shell Beach, Pismo BeachArroyo Grande, Los Osos, and Grover Beach.
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